Sidekicks

These succulent (and healthy) veggies just might outshine the entrée.




HERBED CHEESY SWEET POTATOES INGREDIENTS:

Yields: 4 servings

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • 2 heaping Tbs. fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 2 heaping Tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 7 oz. feta cheese, room temperature
  • salt and black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 400°F. Rub each potato with olive oil and season all over with salt and pepper. Prick the skin one or twice with a fork. Arrange on a baking sheet or pan.

Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven and cook for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes offer no resistance to the point of a sharp knife.

While the potatoes are cooking, mash the herbs into the cheese along with some more black pepper.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and cut a cross into each one. Open slightly and stuff each potato with a quarter of the herbed cheese mixture. (If you want the cheese to warm a little, return to the oven for 3–4 minutes.) Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and eat while hot.

"Many people choose ketchup, BBQ sauce or other processed condiments to add flavor to a dish. Herbs on the other hand, especially fresh herbs, have added benefits such as increasing antioxidant availability. Some herbs even contribute to inhibiting tumor growth.”

—Linda McLachlan, registered dietitian/nutritionist, All Nutrition Matters, Wyckoff

SPICY LAMB-STUFFED EGGPLANT

Yields: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 eggplants, untrimmed, cut in half lengthwise
  • 9 oz. lean ground lamb
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. pine nuts
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • salt and black pepper to taste

TO SERVE:

  • warm flatbreads, pita bread or Turkish bread
  • Greek or Turkish-style yogurt

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 400°F. Use a large, wide Dutch oven or flameproof casserole dish with a lid. Set it over medium heat on the stovetop and add 3 Tbs. of olive oil. With the cut sides facing upwards, slash three lines straight down the length of each eggplant half, without breaking the skin underneath. Place eggplants, cut side down first, in the pan and brown them all over. Remove from the pan and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add the lamb to the same pan and brown it well too—do this in batches, if necessary, so that the meat browns instead of stews. Return all the meat to the pan and add the onion. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until the onion begins to brown. Next, add the pine nuts and toast for a minute or two; then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add the cumin and chopped fresh tomato, then 1 cup of hot water. Bring up to a gentle simmer and let bubble for 10 minutes. Add the chopped herbs, then taste and season as needed.

Return the eggplants to the pan and arrange them cut side up. Use a large spoon to scoop up the lamb mixture and pile it on top of the eggplants, dividing it equally among the 4 halves and pulling the slashes in each one apart slightly so that they open up during cooking.

Pour an extra ¼ cup of hot water into the pan, cover with a lid and cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, baste the eggplants and lamb with the pan juices, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and check that the eggplants are well cooked—they should be almost collapsing and soft all the way through. If they are not, cover the pan again and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Serve with warm bread to mop up the juices, and a dollop of thick yogurt on the side.

"Eggplants contain a red-blue flavonoid plant pigment called anthocyanin, which has been found to help with dropping blood pressure significantly. They also help with anemia, manage blood sugars, and may prevent some cancers.”

 —Angela Langner, registered dietitian/ nutritionist and owner, Nutrition Center of Bergen County, Ridgewood

ROASTED SQUASH STUFFED WITH FREEKEH & FETA

Yields: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 small butternut squash
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced 
  •  cup cooked freekeh
  • 1 cup crumbled feta chunks
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh chives
  • ½ tsp. crumbled chili flakes, or more to taste
  • 1 Tbs. pumpkin seeds n salt and black pepper to taste

TO SERVE

  • 2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • extra virgin olive oil 

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 400°F. Halve the squash and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh. Drizzle 2 Tbs. of the oil over the squash and season with salt and pepper; use your hands to rub the oil all over the cut sides of the flesh. Put the squash into a large metal roasting pan, flesh side down, and place in the hot oven. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven. Mix the ground cumin and coriander with another Tbs. of oil; turn the squash cut side up and drizzle the mixture over the top.

Toss the diced vegetables in the remaining oil with some more salt and pepper. Add to the roasting pan, arranging them in a single layer around the squash. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and spoon out the diced cooked vegetables. Put them into a bowl with the freekeh, feta, chives and chili flakes and stir to combine. Pile the mixture into the hollow of each squash—don’t worry if some falls out into the pan. Top each half with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. Return to the oven for 8 minutes to heat the freekeh, pop the seeds and warm the cheese. Top with the fresh cilantro and a restrained drizzle of extra virgin olive oil just before serving.

"Freekeh is an ancient grain from the Middle East with many nutritional properties. It is a type of wheat that has a chewy and firm texture, which is very versatile and can be used in many dishes. This grain is higher in protein and fiber than quinoa or brown rice, but does contain gluten. It is also a great source of iron, good for oxygenating the blood.”

—Janet Brancato, registered dietitian/nutritionist, Nutopia, Glen Rock

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